“Ask a Priest: Why Try to Scare People Into Believing?”

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Q: Do you really believe that scaring people and telling them that they ought to live by this specific set of rules, otherwise they will burn for eternity, is the way a supreme being would attempt to obtain followers? Serious question. – S.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: By “specific set of rules” I’ll assume that you mean Catholicism and its various precepts and norms and canon laws.

Catholicism isn’t about fear-mongering, and at its core it’s not about rules. Rather, the Church teaches what Jesus taught, guided by the Holy Spirit, in its mission to help souls reach heaven.

The notion of eternal punishment is not something the Church invented. Jesus himself warned of it on a number of occasions, for instance, in Luke 16:23 (“torment”), Mark 9:43 (“unquenchable fire”), Mark 9:43 (“their worm does not die”), and Matthew 25:46 (“eternal punishment”).

In general, the Church prefers to motivate people toward a path of love: love for God, love for fellow human beings. Love in the long run is generally a more effective motivation than fear.

The Church also emphasizes God’s mercy, which he is willing to extend to the repentant. (For more reading, see Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical that focuses on God’s mercy.)

In any case, our eternal destiny is worth keeping in view.

The potential loss of souls helps explain why the Son of God would be willing to come among us and suffer a horrible death for our redemption.

His cross on Calvary is a reminder of how serious sin is.


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